If you’re just taking a break from saving the world in Quake 4, or stopped by to cool your jets after drooling over the latest Xbox 360 screenshot… then this is not a review for you. In fact I’d dare say that you’re not ready for the depths that Marine Park Empire will drag you to. I’m not sure I was ready to see the bottom of this fish tank, but I survived and I’m here to tell you how deep the rabbit-fish hole goes.
Have you ever heard the creator of Katamari Damacy talk about the main design principle Namco followed? “Fun or forget it.” With Marine Park Empire the theme seems to have been, “If it’s not cheerful and colorful, forget it.” This might have led the game to be a tad overbearing in the warmer sunny months of this year, but it’s the perfect game for this rainy time of year. If you’ve been stuck inside lately because of rain, then fire up this game and prepare to get a lethal dose of Prozac shoved directly into your brain.
Marine Park Empire's bright cheerful outlook on zoos combines super easy park building tools with a deep layer of animal factoids (For example: Did you know that gorillas and lions don’t like to be in the same pen?) took me back to my grade school field trips to the Oregon Zoo. Only in my memories the animals weren’t this happy looking. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that lions were not meant to live in near-yearlong rainy weather?
I found myself enjoying Marine Park Empire in ways I wasn’t sure I would following my recent head-chopping time with Spartan: Total Warrior. In fact, I think this is the only game I’ve played in the last year that didn’t involve red stuff flying all over the screen; I never knew that non-red colors looked so nice on my widescreen LCD! Yes, everything about the game oozes a fun, friendly, non-confrontational vibe. Even when animals are running amok and people are screaming there are no deaths, or lawsuits for that matter.
For a theme park builder Marine Park Empire is painfully easy to get into, but don’t think for a moment this means you’ll just be able to slap some tiki-huts down and call it a Zoo. No, you’ve got to make sure that your animals are happy, stuffed with food, and most importantly behind a fence capable of holding them. Those screams, I can still hear the screams at night. *Sniff*.
Why did I just mention fences in a review of a “marine park” simulation game? Because, publisher Enlight Studio was cool enough to pack in all of Zoo Empire’s animals and items. This makes buying this game essentially like owning Zoo Empire and getting a whole smorgasbord of aquatic toys to play with for free. So while you can just build a Sea World that doesn’t have your face on the “banned for life” board; extra points will go out to those who build the greatest Zoo this side of San Diego.
However, even if you’re not into building an empire from scratch, Marine Park Empire has you covered. Even the youngest of gamers can be molded into zoo building champs with six fully voiced tutorials leading the way. And after learning the right place to place restrooms you’ll stumble right into 21 engaging scenarios designed to keep one busy doing everything from improving visitor happiness to making sure monkeys don’t scar children for life.
Speaking of leaving long lasting mental scars, if you’re a former Sims abuser you’ll most undoubtedly find that dropping hungry grizzly bears by the front gates is a great way to perk up your day. Hint: It’s harder for zoo keepers to catch animals when they’re standing in the unemployment line. Super evil fun hint: Ratchet up your fun by building a fence around the exit so visitors can’t leave!
Not that the game itself will inspire anyone to be evil. From the soft “glow” that surrounds everything in the park, to the upbeat music that pours out of your speakers like honey: Marine Park Empire plays out buttery smooth. This feeling is enhanced by the camera controls, the lynchpin of any 3D theme park game, which while a little on the drunken side go hand-in-hand with the slow plodding nature of the genre.
I can’t recommend this game enough to anyone with children, or to those small kids who are currently kicking my ass online in Halo 2. So kids: play Marine Park Empire instead and learn about animals so you can ace that 5th grade science class quiz on African animals! Or if you’re older and enjoy chaos: play this and learn which animals you should be letting out of your local zoo for maximum carnage.*
*Got-Next assumes no responsibility for anyone who climbs into the lion pen.